A few months ago I went and heard an author I really like, Brian Doyle, do a reading from his book Mink River*, and talk about his work. Going to see my favorite authors speak is one of my favorite activities--I've vaguely considered going on the road and becoming a groupie for book tours, but I had to rapidly shut that line of thought down because it was verging on the edge of just too weird. Also, Hemingway is dead so I really don't know who I'd follow, but that's neither here nor there. Anyway, I saw Brian Doyle and he read from Mink River, and he told us some funny stories and had some great phrases. One of them, which he used sort off offhandedly during a story, was the phrase sea of stars. I hadn't thought about it until last night, when I was leaning out over the porch railing at the ranch, head tilted back up towards the midnight sky, looking at the stars. They are numerous at the ranch, far beyond the reach of those pesky city lights, so I had a lot to look at. I was alone, everyone we went with had scattered to bed or on a night walk, so I found myself, quite accidentally, by myself. I was going to head in after a minute because it was starting to get cold, but every time I considered it I found myself delaying just a minute more. So I gave in and stared aimlessly at the sky, without thought or intent. I listened and watched, still as a stone, as the cabin went dark around me and the night started to emerge--crickets cricked, some coyotes yipped, a bush started rustling, the stars were twinkling. They were twinkling probably because I was a little bleary-eyed and wearing glasses, but regardless, twinkling and looking pretty magical. The sky looked bowl-shaped, ringed by the ridges on either side of our little Quail Canyon, and the black-blue velvet of the sky contrasted nicely with the aforementioned twinkle of the stars. So I looked and looked, and before long Brian Doyle's sea of stars came ringing back to me, over and over again, like a melody through my head. Sea of stars, sea of stars, sea of stars. In that moment, it captured so wholly how I saw the sky and how I felt that it was almost as if my own happy hum had been added to the crickets cricking and coyotes yipping. I felt, as I often do at the ranch, a small piece of a much larger mystery.
It is both humbling and encouraging to feel this way. I know I've written before about our little piece of the land, but last night it felt bigger than the rocks and dirt it is, and expanded into the atmosphere and beyond, into the sea of stars. When Brian Doyle told me about the sea, he was talking about his children, and how they came to be, as if handed down by a higher power from the sea of stars. At the time, it was the sort of airy, inarticulate phrasing I tend to shy away from. What does that mean, the sea of stars? But I'm finding, particularly in the last few weeks, that not everything is able to be articulated the way you think it ought to be. Not everything can be broken down into concise explanations, not everything can be made beautiful through clarity of voice and the strength of vocabulary. I'm finding, these days, that life is sometimes a mystery, and for the things we don't have answers for, we often don't have normal language to characterize it either. So we come up with things like sea of stars to talk about where babies come from, and we try and talk about being a part of the universe as a way to describe spiritualism.
Once my Dad told me that he thought that when you died, it would be exactly like what it was before you were born. There was more to the theory I think than that, but in essence, you went back to the place you were before you were you. If you combine Mr. Doyle and my Dad's line of thinking, you would go back to the sea of stars when you die. You have to see where this is going. My Grandma just died, and it occurred to me, frozen on the porch railing, that perhaps G. Claire is now in the sea of stars. It was a very comforting thought, as I looked up and felt a part of it all, that we were still sort of in the same place--even if it the thought was just a spin-off of Brian Doyle's imagination.
But regardless, I was feeling very peaceful there on the porch, doing some star-gazing and some solitary processing, and I went to bed and slept, and woke up feeling rested. These are all good things, and a testament to what I always tell people about how the ranch makes me feel--that I feel the most spiritual there, and not generally in the places where you're supposed to be celebrating the spirit. And it's true, at the church for Grandma I felt stressed and disoriented, not peaceful. I have nothing against churches, and certainly nothing against religion--it's just the sea of stars and the coyotes yipping will always inspire me more than I think a minister will.
So that's what I think about that. Also, I'd like to point out that the Disney classic, the Lion King, also touched on this theory. Something to consider. Take this idea with a grain of salt.
*Mink River is a great book, but apparently not for everyone. Some people read it for the plot--that's a mistake. Read it for the characters, and read it for the words. Doyle pushes and pushes and pushes at the limitations of language to capture the immensity of life in each moment. And that's what I like about it. My Uncle Ollie didn't like it, or so they tell me, so I really had to question my own judgement--but I came up knowing what I liked about it, and also that the style is not one I will emulate. It's Joyce-ian, but with Pacific Northwest twist. What's not to love?